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Real men get their nails done. At least, Michael Jordan does, and the consensus is that Jordan is one real man. Besides, today he must look sharp, feel sharp and be sharp, for in a few hours he will attend a party in Chicago to celebrate his appearance on the cover of the March issue of Gentlemen's Quarterly.
"But I'd be getting them done anyway," said Jordan last Thursday afternoon, while relaxing on a stool at Spa Mirage, a salon located upstairs in the Multiplex, the Chicago Bulls' practice facility in suburban Deerfield. "About every 10 days, two weeks, I get a manicure," Jordan added. "You know who I picked it up from? Dr. J. I don't know that it helps much out on the court, but basically it just feels good. It's therapy for the hands."
So, that takes care of Jordan's hands. But what about the tender feet, the aching back, the throbbing knees and the burning lungs? Any therapy for them? The questions are relevant because last year's MVP in the NBA has once again hoisted the Bulls upon his splendid but by no means oversized shoulders, taken a deep breath and said, "Welcome aboard, guys, let's see how far we can get this time." Through Sunday, Jordan led the league in minutes per game (40.4), points (33.4) and steals (3.07). He also paced Chicago in assists (6.9) and, of course, the universe in oohs and aahs generated (no estimate).
"It must be like most of the rest of us playing with grade-school kids," says teammate John Paxson. "That's how good he is."
Aah, but how good are Jordan's Bulls? That's the question. After a 122-104 loss to the Knicks in New York last Saturday night, Chicago stood at 34-22, good for fifth place in the tough Central Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference. That's three wins better than last season's record at the same point, but a tough stretch of the schedule lies dead ahead, and no one has stepped forward to consistently take the burden off Jordan. "Michael plays it down, but he's a one-man team," says Dallas Maverick forward Sam Perkins, a former teammate of Jordan's at North Carolina, and it's hard to dispute him.
Those words cut through the men who run the Bulls like a biting wind off Lake Michigan. A thousand times since Jordan's rookie season of 1984-85, they've protested that he's not a one-man team, and a thousand times the statistics scream "wrong." The degree to which Jordan dominates Chicago's stats (even his 7.5 rebounds per game are second on the team to power forward Horace Grant's 8.7) suggests the Bulls are wearing him down and, ultimately, cutting years off his career.
"No one by himself can carry a team through a season," says fellow superstar Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks. "If Michael has to do this year after year, it will shorten his career."
In that regard, statistics and minutes played aren't the whole story. It's the way Jordan performs that brings his longevity into question. "He plays every game like it's his last," says another Hawk, guard Doc Rivers. "I think the Bulls can rest him more. I know it's tough, but I think they're good enough to win if he plays three or four minutes a game less. They just don't know it."
Well, Doc, that would be a revelation to Chicago coach Doug Collins, who devotes many of his waking moments to that very issue. "Yes, I do worry about Michael wearing down," says Collins, the caretaker of Jordan's playing time. "I'd love to get his minutes down to, say, 37. And when we're a team that can score consistently without him, we'll do it."
Jordan views the fatigue issue as unimportant. "Hey, I'm a young thoroughbred," he says, "and young thoroughbreds don't need rest." He now relies more on his jump shot and has cut down on his magic-carpet drives to the hoop, but that change is as much a result of taking what the defense gives him as it is a conscious effort to reduce wear and tear. Let a single defender crowd him and Jordan is dust in the wind.